Building off of yesterday’s post – I want to suggest that there is biblical precedent for the prophetic and subversive use of storytelling to challenge the powers that be.
In II Samuel we find David, secure in power and victorious over his neighbors. He has sent his army off to war against the Ammonites, but stays behind in his palace.
As the well-known story goes, David sees from his rooftop a beautiful woman bathing, has her brought to him, and then – after finding out that she became pregnant that night – he conspires to deceive and eventually murder her husband.
No doubt David felt he had gotten away with his actions, the only people who knew were some close aids and of course Bathsheba who would be publicly shamed if the truth came out, and may have become aware of just how far David was willing to go to protect his power.
Into this situation of injustice and exploitation walks the prophet Nathan. He tells the king a brilliant little story about a rich man who robs a poor man of his only beloved lamb. David is incensed by the story, drawn into it to the extent that he has unintentionally identified with his victim and against himself, and demands that the man be brought to justice.
To this Nathan famously responds, “You are the man!”
He then proceeds to share the words of God’s judgment against David. And David, who had testified against himself, breaks down in repentance.
Like the audience of V for Vendetta, David’s worldview was intentionally subverted by a story told from the underside of power, a story that subtly placed him in opposition to his own exploitation and abuse of authority.
Though we often think of prophesy as primarily a predictive act, most of the work of the Old Testament prophets is more like Nathan’s confrontation with David – performance art, poetry, and storytelling that challenges the powers to see things the way the truly are, and that then offers hope on the other side of repentance.
It is this sort of prophetic witness that I think the Church needs to reclaim in its art, its singing, and its storytelling.